Steven J. Moss
It’s Sara’s favorite story. She tells it at dinner parties and family gatherings: her near death experience when I allowed her unattended stroller to careen down one of San Francisco’s steepest hills. Even Debbie throws in details, and she wasn’t there. I’ll protest that, no, it didn’t quite happen that way. But the particulars aren’t important in the face of such cartoon-like daddy negligence. The tale is in the same mythic category as narrowly missing a toddler with a one-ton anvil, or leaving an opened bottle of Tylenol at baby level after a night out drinking (okay, I did that, but she didn’t actually eat any).
Here’s what happened. I walked three-year-old Sara down the two flights of stairs outside our Kansas Street home. At street level—which tilts at something like a 45 degree angle—I strapped her into her stroller. We were set to go to Jackson Park, her favorite playground, a few blocks away. Then I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me. Crap. What if we needed to buy a snack?
I looked at her, happily playing in her stroller with two small stuffed animals. I looked up at the two flights of stairs. I made my decision.
Before I go on I need to tell you about the stroller. This wasn’t one of those $500 turbo-charged models with built-in bottle warmer and fold-out diaper changing table—the kind our nanny, Gilda said made her peers so nervous it’d be stolen that they’d spend more time watching the stroller than their charges. This was a $30 Costco umbrella stroller. No cup holder, no extra carrying case, no skid-proof wheel system, nothing.
I turned the stroller sideways against the hill. Despite what Debbie—remember, she wasn’t there—or Sara—who at the time thought sand was edible—say, I set the brakes. I ran up the stairs, unlocked the door, grabbed my wallet, ran back down the stairs.
And she was gone.
There are a few moments in life when time stops. The universe seems to shudder and crack open, creating a new reality in which everything is different. Unless there are drugs or alcohol involved, this temporary suspension of time is never a good thing. It occurred to me when I took a hard tumble down a steep mountain slope skiing in Northern California. And it occurred when I came down those stairs, and Sara wasn’t where I’d left her. A set of feelings washed over me that I’d never previously experienced; a strange mix of stunned fear, sudden loss, and twisted resolve. My stomach churned; I felt woozy.
Strangely, I looked up the hill. She wasn’t there. I looked down the hill, into the street. I couldn’t see where she went. I started down the slope. That’s when I saw a small knot of Latino men running up the hill toward me, one of whom had my crying daughter cradled in his arms. They’d been gardening the front yard of a house a few doors down when she’d flown by in her stroller, before toppling over. I grabbed her from the man.
“Thank you, thank you,” I said, as they placed her stroller and stuffed animals next to my house.
One side of Sara’s face was scraped from her scalp to her chin, like a skinned knee. Other than that, and the shock of what’d happened, she was fine. I brought her upstairs, cleaned her up, and put her in front of her favorite video. Soon enough, she was back to her happy self. And then I had a thought, and the universe cracked open for a second time: how would I tell Debbie? I’ll leave the specifics of that to another time. Perhaps it’s enough to say that we’re still married.
Handbook Tips: Caution, Contents under High Pressure
You might feel compelled to purchase top-of-the-line strollers, highchairs and the like. Spend as much as you want, if it makes you feel better. In the end it’s the quality of the user more than the characteristics of the equipment that matters.
There’s an age-old question of whether, when taking off a bandage, to rip it off quickly or slowly. When it comes to telling your partner that you’ve just done something incredibly stupid with their baby, there’s only one good approach: quick, clean, and comprehensive. Immediately followed by complete obeisance to whatever happens next. Think to yourself, “Yes, my liege!” But don’t say it out loud.
Your most embarrassing parenting moments will be retold repeatedly as epic stories for years to come by your child. No worries. Bide your time. Someday they’ll get married, or have some kind of ceremony; that’s when you get to give them a lengthy toast.
This is an excerpt from The Daddy Handbook—first published in the paper in 2011—a book by View editor Steven Moss, selections from which will appear in the paper throughout 2014. He’s looking for a publisher for this work. Fellow parents are encouraged to write in with their experiences: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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